Boris Johnson said on Thursday that it's “too early" to set a date for the lifting of coronavirus restrictions as infection rates throughout the country remain high.
“We’ve got to observe the lockdown, the stay at home message, protect each other and protect the NHS. It’s absolutely crucial in what is unquestionably going to be a tough few weeks ahead," the PM said during a visit to the flood-hit Greater Manchester area.
Citing figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and other reports, Johnson said that the data clearly showed that the newly-discovered variant is extremely contagious.
“It's not more deadly but it is more contagious and the numbers are very great,” he added.
"We'll look then [15 February] at how we're doing but I think what we're seeing in the ONS data, in the React survey, we're seeing the contagiousness of the new variant that we saw arrive just before Christmas - there's no doubt it does spread very fast indeed."
React researchers also discovered that Covid-19 cases across England spiked by 50 percent between early December and the second week of January.
A Downing Street spokesman told journalists during a Westminster press briefing that the UK government is continuing to review scientific data in relation to the potential lifting of any coronavirus restrictions.
“It remains our position that we want to ease restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so, but in order for us to do that we need to see the transmission rates of the virus come down and we need to see the pressure on the NHS reduce," the spokesman said.
“We stand ready to strengthen our border policy where we think it’s appropriate to protect the public," he said in response to a question about foreign arrivals in the UK being required to pay for two weeks of quarantine in hotels.
Boris says it's "too early" to say if lockdown will end in spring. Let me translate: lockdown will not end in spring. Why not just be honest - we are stuck like this for MONTHS - instead of constantly stringing people along?— Isabel Oakeshott (@IsabelOakeshott) January 21, 2021
The UK is currently gripped by its third national lockdown since March 2020, with the most recent restrictions being put in place following the discovery of the new fast-spreading variant in December.
As of Friday morning, a total of 3,553,773 confirmed Covid-19 cases have been registered in the UK with 94,765 deaths.
The British government is scaling up its vaccination programme. So far, 4.6 million people have received the jab.